August 19th, 2008
I love the Olympics. Love the Olympics. The spectacle of the opening ceremonies always gives me goosebumps, and for a few days, watching the people of hundreds of nations around the world compete in friendly camaraderie gives me hope that we can all just, in the infamous words of Rodney King, get along. Whenever the Summer Games roll around I am squarely in front of the tv, marveling at the feats that the human body can accomplish (with some regrets that I didn’t pursue that sort of dream myself…)
This year was no different. When NBC announced that we would be practically inundated with Olympic coverage I was gleeful. There could be no such thing as too much! I would have it on 24/7, right from the start. I would be using picture-in-picture, we’d be switching back and forth like mad, it was going to be another Olympic village in our house. We even allowed Punksin to stay up late to watch the opening ceremonies, with some part of me hoping she, too, would catch Olympic fever.
And so the Games began. And I watched.
And I watched.
And I watched.
And slowly but surely, the disgust set in.
In the beginning, I thought it was a wonderful thing that the world was cheering China on in its capacity as host country. Everyone was gracious, and properly wowed by the lengths China had gone to to ensure a great experience.
But the way with which people are speaking of China – and judging China – and showcasing China – has long moved past the gracious phase and gone far into sycophantic ass-kissing. Now, we are so far up China’s ass that there is no longer anything objective about our coverage of them in the games. And I have turned off my tv, not so much as a gesture of protest as much as a gesture of protection – it’s making me sick.
Strike 1: Age rules that don’t get enforced. I am a mother. And long before becoming a mother, I was a woman. And I can tell you with 100% confidence that there is no way that those Chinese gymnasts that everyone is murmuring about – the ones Marta Karolyi called little babies – are 16. Absolutely not. 13, 14, maybe. But definitely not 16. And the fact that the IOC refuses to investigate this when anyone with a hormone in their body could see that these girls haven’t accumulated too many hormones of their own, is very unfair to other competitors. No, this is not just bitterness because we lost gold. The Chinese girls were clearly better (on the all-around) – but why do we have rules if they will be skirted and no one will pursue it? It makes the whole thing sickening to watch – and watching the despair and resignation on the faces of American athletes who have been preparing for these games for years is sickening too.
Strike 2: Do we have to see China competing every single time the camera is on? The funny thing is, I have been one of those people who, in the past, thought that our media could do a better job of showing another country once in a while. While all the rednecks immediately point out that we’re in Amerika and should be rooting for Ameri-kins, I like to think that our particular brand of diversity should allow us to at least look at some of the other countries once in a while – after all, there’s no other country in the world that is so uniquely multi-culti – no matter what’s on, somewhere someone here is cheering. But this year’s coverage has not been a sudden appreciation of America’s Chinese population. This is more about showing China how much we love them, how they’ve been welcomed into the “club”. If there isn’t a US competitor immediately available to show, we default to the Chinese. And the only boon there is that there is ample visual evidence of China’s willingness to cheat – the gymnasts are the most-spoken of cheating possibility, but not at all the only one.
Then take the case of the men’s 100m, typically used to qualify the fastest man in the world. This year, that would be Usain Bolt, a Jamaican runner who breezed through his heats and the final as though he was running to the store for a loaf of bread. This guy clearly can go even faster, but right now, he doesn’t have to. But he broke the world record twice this year, which is normally a pretty damn big deal. This year, though, after some scant media coverage that didn’t do justice to the feat this man performed, the story went to the Chinese runner that everyone was buzzing about. Mind you, he didn’t even run – after cramping up in the starting blocks, he walked away. But that became a story in itself. Who cares about world records when you can talk about a non-event?
Strike 3: The judging. In gymnastics, Alicia Sacramone performs a vault that, while not sparkling in its difficulty, is well-executed. She gets a score. Up comes a Chinese gymnast, who tries for a vault that is much harder. She doesn’t nail it – there are several errors and she lands on her knees, for God’s sake. Who gets the higher score? The Chinese gymnast. Because even although she screwed up, it was a harder vault; in other words, the difficulty made the difference, even though she royally screwed it up.
Okay, so with that logic in place, fast forward to the individual gold medal tie between Nastia Liukin and He Kexin for their uneven bar routines. Apparently both perfect, the tiebreaker goes to – can you guess? – He!! Why? Because when there is a tie, it is apparently broken by using the scores for execution, and the one with more scores close to the perfect 10 gets the win. Or some similarly retarded formula.
Wow. So in one event, the judging defaults to difficulty, which of course gives the Chinese gymnast the win. And then later, when a tie happens, they use execution scores. Which, by the way, means another gold for China.
I saw boxing matches where the boxer opposing the Chinese competitor made solid connections – and his score went nowhere. Mind you, it’s pretty simple: you make a hit, you get a point, there’s no style or flair points. And the guy was hitting the Chinese boxer constantly but no points were being awarded. It was so blatantly unfair. Lest you, like me bemoan the lack of consistency, be assured that there is consistency. China is going to win no matter what. If that’s not consistent I don’t know what is.
Strike 4: The IOC’s repeated refusal to more closely investigate anything that could even remotely lead to China’s cheating. It’s almost as though they very deliberately don’t want China to lose face – we all know how shaming that is is Asian cultures. But shouldn’t holding your head high come about because you’ve played by the rules? Why do other athletes have to walk away confused and disappointed in order to allow China to hold their heads high?
I hate using the word conspiracy, since the first word most people associate with it is paranoia. But there are times when the word is warranted, and while I don’t think there have been any signed memos or handshakes with blood oaths, something is going on here. It’s all just a little too pointedly not pointed, if you catch my meaning.
And so, I’m pretty much done. The Chinese did a wonderful job of hosting, but their spectacular performance has been permanently marred by shady tactics – the pursuit of perfection isn’t true. And the media has assisted them, with coverage that is so skewed as to be sponsored by the state-run Chinese media. I’m all for supporting the host country, but I didn’t see this level of ass-kissing in Barcelona, or Sydney. And I don’t see why we are doing it now. Did China pledge to come out of Tibet or something?
The Olympics, for me, is usually like an eclipse – beautiful, breathtaking, and all too short in duration. But this year, I’ll be glad when it’s done. I’ve had enough.